How online marketplaces are saving the world.....or probably not

by Christian Hainsch


And even the millionth online marketplace will not make the world a better place, because markets have never been a place where morals and ethics have developed or been actively raised to a higher level. The market has always been an important point of social interaction and has also produced many things, but it has always had the goal of offering goods and services and selling them profitably or for the buyer to obtain them at favorable prices and to supply himself with the necessary things that he could not produce himself.


Of course, the market is also subject to certain ethical rules (think of the principle of the "honorable merchant") but these are all too often sacrificed in favor of profit. We can still stick so many labels like "sustainability", "ecological", "socially compatible", "crowdblabla" on it but it is and remains a market.


The ethics and morals of the market result from the actions of the individual and the interaction between buyer and seller. The closer people are to each other and the more intense their bond as a community, the more ethical values are observed. In the anonymity of online markets, this is hardly the case. Buyers and sellers are arbitrarily interchangeable, a connection exists only in the sense of customer loyalty for the marketing of further products and services, and when one customer drops out, there is already a hankering for the next. 


Ethics and morals arise where people act out of common interests and pursue common goals. They develop by the social dependence (positively connoted) of humans to each other. They arise where people feel obligated to each other and can cause negative consequences for the individual and society by acting immorally. This is becoming more and more difficult in a so-called networked world, as market participants no longer have to make these commitments and it is too easy to disappear into anonymity.


Can this be changed now? Yes, one can. Let's just look again at the individual behind every transaction. According to the Kantian formula, "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time wish it to become a general law", or perhaps more simply: "Treat everyone as you would like to be treated". To do this we need to be aware of our own values, we need to apply our best morals to our market, to the transaction and interaction between us as sellers and the other individual as buyers, and also perceive each other as individuals with values, feelings, joys and sorrows, and yes, a sensitive soul as well.


And yes the whole thing cries out for something that we find more and more difficult in this time: EMPATHY.


But only through this we achieve a togetherness, a common good. Even if we are all individuals, we are a community that has only one planet and therefore must work together. The individual comes only to the end of his self. The community, however, outlasts. 


If you would like to know more about leadership, market and business ethics, check out the page of Christian Hainsch